Friday, July 25, 2014

Nature Walk at Mooney's Pond

We went out to Mooney's Pond one day last week for a nature walk. Mooney's Pond is one of our favourite places for a walk: it is only fifteen minutes from our house, it has a boardwalk so I can take the stroller for the baby, and it is just incredibly beautiful.

We started at Anderson's Pond, a small fishing pond accessible by wheelchair. But before we got very far, the boys had to stop and pick some of the many tiny wild strawberries beside the trail.

Once we got to the pond, we stopped to admire the view. JJ was excited to see some fish in the water. (The pond is stocked with salmon.) The rest of us were not as lucky.

We continued down the boardwalk. The boys asked me to take pictures of several things they noticed. We had brought our nature journals, but as the bugs were plentiful, I was content with some quick shots with the cell phone.

Even MM joined in. I'm not sure what he saw, but what I saw was him enjoying the nature walk...

Eventually the trail led us to Mooney's Pond. The boys ran to check out the map. They love maps.

The trail goes completely around the pond, but the wheelchair-accessible (and stroller accessible) portion only goes half-way. Still, it's a good long walk for little boys.

But here's where it got crazy. We got to the stairs where the trail gets more difficult. SA took my cell phone, and before I knew it, he and JJ were gone. I waited at the top of the stairs with MM (in the stroller), fully expecting them to reappear in two minutes or so. I felt proud of my masterly inactivity, letting them explore a bit on their own. But only JJ reappeared. He told me SA was finding a geocache. I was a bit worried now, though SA is my cautious child and I did not expect him to come to harm. I carried the stroller down the stairs, and started through the woods to find him. The trail had a lot of roots here, so it was not easy. And we got to the end of the trail without finding him. He had started the trail again! He was sheepish when I found him...he sensed somehow that I was not happy. I explained that I had been worried about him and asked him not to leave me behind again. We headed back down the trail and had our snack before heading for home. It was a good afternoon, even with our little adventure at the end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Charlotte Mason Math Teacher

The first thing to learn from Charlotte Mason about choosing math curriculum is that a good teacher matters more than the curriculum you use.
“There is no one subject in which good teaching effects more, as there is none in which slovenly teaching has more mischievous results.” (1, 254)
“Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught...” (6, 233)
I wonder how many of you read the above quotes with sinking hearts? There is so much math phobia in our time. Many of us had poor math teaching ourselves, and worse, have come to believe that math is just “not our thing.” On the other hand, others of us (and this was me) were good little rule-followers, thinking we were good at math when in reality we had no idea of the greatness and wonder of math.

Fear not. You can be a good math teacher, no matter how inadequate you feel about it right now. There is both less and more than you think to being a good teacher, and I think it will help to consider the specific attributes Charlotte Mason assumes or spells out about a good math teacher. I will cover one of them this week, and several more next week.

1. A good teacher appreciates the beauty and wonder of mathematics.

Mathematics is the expression of the order God built into the universe. As such, it is worthy of wonder and awe, and it is profoundly right that we should appreciate its beauty. Charlotte Mason understood this.
“We take strong ground when we appeal to the beauty and truth of Mathematics…” (6, 230)
"It is a great thing to be brought into the presence of a law, of a whole system of laws, that exist without our concurrence, --that two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact which we can perceive, state, and act upon but cannot in any wise alter, should give to children the sense of limitation which is wholesome for all of us, and inspire that sursum corda which we should hear in all natural law." (6, 231) 
“Never are the operations of Reason more delightful and more perfect than in mathematics. Here men do not begin to reason with a notion which causes them to lean to this side or to that. By degrees, absolute truth unfolds itself. We are so made that truth, absolute and certain truth, is a perfect joy to us; and that is the joy that mathematics afford. Also, there is great joy in standing by, as it were, and watching our own thought work out an intricate problem.” (4, 63)

It may be that you just don't appreciate the beauty of math. Perhaps it brings back old memories of inadequacy and failure. Or maybe you just don't see how the all the rules you memorized as a child to get through math ("Ours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply...") could possibly be beautiful. If this is the case, may I suggest that this lack of appreciation can and should be remedied?  Because there is truly something to appreciate here. I would recommend that you start by reading Paul Lockhart's "A Mathematician's Lament." It is not from a Christian perspective, but it will help you to begin thinking about math in a way that appreciates its beauty. Second, consider following Tammy Glaser's Captain Idea Log and let her delight in math begin to influence yours. I would also suggest that you head over to YouTube and search for math ideas.  "Fibonacci sequence" might be a good place to start. There are many people excited about math that have posted videos to share its wonder.

If you are able to find Patricia Clark Kenschaft's book Math Power, or Marilyn Burns' Math: Facing an American Phobia at your library, they may help overcome any fear of math you may have as you begin to teach your children. John Mighton's The Myth of Ability is also worth reading. (Quoted here.)

If it's any comfort, this is an area you can expect to grow in throughout your life. You do not have to understand it all to appreciate that it is wonderful. I believe that Charlotte Mason herself grew in her appreciation of mathematics in the years between her writing of Volume 1 and Volume 6. In Volume 1 she said:
“The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders." (1, 254)
In other words, the most important thing about math is its usefulness in training the mind and the character. But by Volume 6, her emphasis has shifted. The value of the training math provides remains true, but it is no longer the most important thing. She has come to appreciate mathematics for its own beauty and worth, not just for what it can do for the children.
“In a word our point is that Mathematics are to be studied for their own sake and not as they make for general intelligence and grasp of mind. But then how profoundly worthy are these subjects of study for their own sake, to say nothing of other great branches of knowledge to which they are ancillary!”  (6, 232)
So be encouraged. If you don't see the worth and the glory of mathematics at this point in your life, you can grow. An openness to learning more and appreciating more and wondering more is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. It matters more than how much math you know right now or even how much math you think you can learn. Education is an atmosphere. Children learn to love the things we love in the very air they breathe in our homes. Music, art, birds and flowers, order, ...and mathematics. Wherever you are right now, whether you fear math or find it a source of joy, it is not too late to learn and grow. You can be a good teacher.

(My references are all to Charlotte Mason's volume first, then page number. You can read her Home Education series for free at Ambleside Online.)

This post is part of the series "Choosing Elementary Math Curriculum with Charlotte Mason's Principles in Mind"
You are here >>A Good Teacher Part 1
A Good Teacher Part 2
A Method, Not a System
Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life in Early Math Education
Spiral or Mastery?
Problem Solving
Putting it all Together: Choosing Curriculum and Resources

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Choosing Elementary Math Curriculum 1

About a year ago, I attended a meeting of our local Charlotte Mason group, and we fell to talking about Math. As it turned out, no one at the meeting had a really clear idea what Charlotte Mason says about math, and so we fell to speculating based on our limited knowledge of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and method. “I think the math curriculum I use is very Charlotte Mason,” said one. “It weaves the mathematical concepts into stories. My children can’t get enough of them. To me they seem like living books.” “I think perhaps Charlotte Mason was not a ‘mathie’,” said another. “To me it seems like she has a very liberal arts focus, and math was probably not her strong point.”

I was very interested in learning how to teach math at the time. My eldest son, who was just about to start Kindergarten at the time, was showing signs of a particular interest in math –an interest I did not feel qualified to feed long-term. I bought a math program at the recommendation of our local homeschooling math expert. (Read "A Generous Education in Mathematics" by Alice Horrocks here.) Her advice was sound, and I was and am very happy with my choices. However, I have since learned that Charlotte Mason actually does have something to teach us about teaching math, and I want to share what I have learned. I am not an expert on math, or on Charlotte Mason. I am a mother beginning to homeschool, learning things as I go along. I hope this series will be helpful to mothers who are in the same shoes I was a year ago…wanting to homeschool the Charlotte Mason way, and intimidated at the thought of teaching math.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to address the following topics:
A Good Teacher
A Method, Not a System
Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life in Early Math Education
Spiral or Mastery?
Problem Solving
Putting it all Together: Choosing Curriculum and Resources

I have entitled the series "Choosing Elementary Math Curriculum". As often happens with Charlotte Mason's methods, though, we are going to have to think through some philosophy first. But hang in there...we will get to the practical applications soon enough.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guest Post at The Canadian Homeschooler

Good morning, everyone. I just did my first guest post ever! You can read it over at The Canadian Homeschooler blog.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Adventures on P.E.I.: King's Castle Provincial Park

I think I've started a tradition. For my birthday a week ago I once again took the boys out for a day as tourists. We went to Eastern P.E.I., starting at King's Castle Provicial Park, then going on to Cape Bear Lighthouse, and finishing our outing with a swim at Pinette Provincial Park.

King's Castle Provincial Park is one of our very favourite places on P.E.I. It probably has very little cultural or educational value (Though you could get a very decent nature walk in.). However, if you are looking for a place to get outdoors with little children for a day, this is the place to go.

The playground equipment is always what my children gravitate to first. There is a great variety of equipment, much of it obviously old-fashioned, but no less fun for all that! There is a merry-go-round, a very high slide, an airplane teeter-totter, sandboxes, toy cars for the very little children, and so much more.

The second thing they went to explore was a large wooden fort (castle?) with walls to scale, tunnels to crawl through, and ladders to climb. While we watched, a large hare came through a tunnel. A bird singing in a nearby tree turned out to be a dark-eyed junco.

By this time they were getting hot, so we walked down to the beach. Yes, this place has a beach, too! It's not a perfect beach, as the ground is a bit rocky as you get close to the water. But there is also lots of sand, and the boys spent some time with their sand toys before going out to wade in the water.

After resting for a while in a porch swing overlooking the water (there are numerous wonderful porch swings throughout the park), we decided to check if there were any geocaches in the area. There were, and we spent quite a while trying to find them. We never did, but we did discover some neat little hidden corners of the park. Our favourite was a little play lighthouse. My boys are not really into imaginative play (in the sense that they don't tend to play-act stories or situations on their own). Children who do enjoy play-acting would probably really enjoy the fairy tale characters scattered throughout the park, together with little buildings for playing the three little pigs, for example. These characters are getting a little shabby...they seem to be relics of a by-gone era. I believe someone told me that many years ago the park was called "Fairy-land."

In the middle of our geocache hunting, we decided we needed some ice cream. The ice cream at King's Castle is not to be missed, as they practically give it away. The boys' single-scoop cones were only 50 cents each! I splurged and got a double scoop cone for a dollar (since it was my birthday and all...).

The surprising thing (I thought, anyway) is that we had the park completely to ourselves. There were only two other boys who walked over from a nearby campground who stayed for a short while. Other than that, only the mosquitoes kept us company. There were plenty of them, anyway! When we'd had enough of the mosquitoes, we decided to go on to new adventures.

We visited Cape Bear lighthouse and climbed to the top (very scary when you're carrying an almost two-year-old!). Then we began to make our way back, stopping at Pinette Provincial Park for a swim. That particular park did not seem to be maintained...the grass was not cut and the washrooms were not open. Still, we had a lovely swim, and lots of fun skipping rocks.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Practical Masterly Inactivity

My 6-year-old has begun to learn to play the piano. I found a little used beginning piano instruction book at Value Village and brought it home one day a few months ago. I started him off with one or two lessons, and then he took off. Without much more effort on my part, he has progressed to page 40 of his book. Every time he passes the piano, he seems to need to stop and play, just for the joy of it. He does not stick with the page, but plays his pieces backwards and inside out. He tries them in different places on the piano and hears how they sound different there. I could interfere at this point. "You're not playing what's written on the page." But I know this feeling's how I learned to play myself as a child, and it's pure joy. He is "feeling his feet" in music, and I believe I need to stand back and practice a little masterly inactivity at this point.

And so I felt a sense of recognition when I read Charlotte Mason's words in chapter four of volume 3:
"In their work, too, we are too apt to interfere with children. We all know the delight with which any scope for personal initiative is hailed, the pleasure children take in doing anything which they may do their own way; anything, in fact, which allows room for skill of hand, play of fancy, or development of thought." (p. 37)
 " 'They felt their feet,' as the nurses say of children when they begin to walk; and our non-success in education is a good deal due to the fact that we carry children through their school work and do not let them feel their feet." (p. 38)
I love it when Charlotte Mason backs up what my instinct and personal experience were already telling me!

Charlotte Mason speaks of the use of masterly activity in several areas:

In their Play:
"There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that children's play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than that about work." p. 36

In their Work:
"...we do not let children alone enough in their work. We prod them continually and do not let them stand or fall by their own efforts." p. 39

In Choosing Friends:
"...we should train children so that we should be able to honour them with a generous confidence; and if we give them such confidence we shall find that they justify it." p. 40

In Spending Pocket-Money:
"The parents who do not trust their young people in this matter, after having trained them, are hardly qualifying them to take their place in a world in which the wise, just, and generous spending of money is a great test of character." p. 42
In Forming their own Opinions:
"We all know that nothing is easier than to make vehement partisans of young people, in any cause heartily adopted by their elders. But a reaction occurs, and the swinging of the pendulum is apt to carry them to a point of thought painfully remote from our own." p. 42
This last point was thought-provoking to me, and I plan to write about it next week.

Read Jen's comments on Masterly Inactivity in part 2 of chapter 3 here.